Marian’s smile faltered as her pen hovered over her notepad. She exhaled, trying to keep her composure as she awkwardly asked the gentleman to repeat what he’d said. As soon as he opened his mouth, another crash from the kitchen deafened everyone in the dining room.
“I’m so sorry, sir. Would you please excuse me for just one moment.” Marian spoke calmly as she poked her pen behind her ear and scurried off to the source of the disruption.
“I told you to be in charge of the bloody scallops!” An almighty crash of a heavy pan hitting the steel sink thundered through the kitchen. “These are fucking expensive and look, they’re completely fucking ruined.” Anne was all teeth and fury as she screamed towards the bewildered man standing next to the oven.
“You said you were doing them.” He muttered meekly as he avoided Anne’s eyeline.
“Sorry?” Anne stopped gesticulating.
Everyone else in the kitchen tensed. If Anne wasn’t moving at a thousand miles an hour, she was more than likely a mere second away from exploding.
“I’m pretty s-sure that y-y-you said you were doing them.” He stuttered.
Anne clenched her teeth as her nostrils began to flare. She looked up at him, her gaze boring into his thick, idiotic skull as she inhaled slowly. “If you weren’t so utterly useless, you’d have heard me ask you to keep an eye on them, precisely…” Anne pulled out her pocket watch. “Seven minutes ago.” Anne snapped the metal cover closed and nestled the watch back into her pocket. “How long do we cook scallops for, Thomas?” Anne was still fixed to the spot, her hands on her hips, everyone knew he was in real trouble now.
“What!” Anne screamed, making everyone in the kitchen flinch.
“Four minutes.” Thomas finally managed to get his words out.
“Hm. Then perhaps you’d like to explain why fifty fucking pounds worth of scallops are currently sitting in my sink, overcooked and ruined!” Anne was shouting now, any ounce of control she had over her anger had long since expired.
“I don’t have to stand for this.” Thomas said before he frowned, almost as if he’d startled himself with his own words.
“Sorry?” Anne’s face was deep shade of pink now as she balled her fist tightly by her side.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. Those were your scallops.” Thomas bit the inside of his cheek as he stared at the spot on the floor. There was no going back now.
This was the moment Marian reached the door, just in time to see Anne throw one of the stainless steel bowls in Thomas’ direction as she erupted into a tirade about how insignificant and incompetent he was. The vein in her head was bulging, her arms looked like she was directing rush-hour traffic at Heathrow airport and her eyes were wild. Marian was just about to intervene when Thomas opened his mouth.
“Enough! I quit!” He stormed over to the door, flinging it open dramatically before he turned back. “You know, you’re a real prick.” His intention was to slam the door as hard as he could but in the heat of the moment, he forgot they were, of course, swing doors. He watched in embarrassment as the door closed silently and immediately opened again.
Anne laughed at his attempt at a triumphant exit. “Get the fuck out of my restaurant.” She shouted at him as Marian entered the kitchen.
“What is it Marian? I’m busy. I have to re-do these fucking starters and now I’m behind. I don’t have time for this right now.” The fresh scallops sizzled loudly in the pan as Anne turned up the heat.
“Are you aware that everyone can hear you? Your customers? You know, those people out there paying your extortionate prices to eat fancy food in a relaxed environment?” Marian tutted. “Do you have any idea what people think when they hear you screaming?”
“I don’t care what people think.” Anne muttered, even though she knew it was a lie.
“Oh, Anne. How are we going to find another sous chef by next week? Honestly, why can’t you think about anyone other than yourself?” Marian huffed before heading back out into the dining room to try and claw back the evening for the diners.
Anne tossed the butter in the pan vigorously, trying to shake away her anger. She couldn’t help it, she told herself, it was the stresses of the kitchen and the fact she could never find staff that worked as hard as she did. The truth was, Anne was a hot-headed control freak with impossibly high standards. It was only May but she’d gone through two sous chefs already this year and with an important event coming up next weekend, she really was in a pickle, not to mention behind with her orders. She’d have to deal with the staffing issue later, for now she had to focus on getting through dinner service.
Growing up in Halifax, Anne couldn’t wait to leave as soon as she was old enough. Sure, the rolling valleys were great and all but she felt suffocated by them. They surrounded her, shielding her from the vibrant cities and big world outside, or at least that’s how they made her feel. Having been taught how to cook from an early age by her favourite person in the world, it didn’t surprise anyone when Anne enrolled in culinary school. She swiftly became head of her class, routinely outperforming her tutor and bragging about it any chance she got. On the weekends, she’d stay with her Aunt at Shibden and test out her wild ideas and recipes on the woman who had nurtured her love of food her entire life.
As soon as she graduated, with distinction as she always added, she packed a bag and caught the first train to Manchester in hopes of building an empire and living her dream. Unfortunately, that move was also to be her downfall. Anne was a romantic, feeling every emotion intensely and so, when she met charismatic socialite Mariana Belcombe, she was blindsided. Suddenly, nothing else mattered in the world. Anne took up a kitchen job in a local restaurant just to pay their rent, her heart wasn’t in it but it didn’t matter. It allowed Mariana to live the life she was accustomed to and Anne convinced herself she was happy with the crumbs of affection that would be tossed her way. She told herself it didn’t really hurt when Mariana referred to Anne in company as her friend, or worse, flatmate. It was fine because when they were alone, it was different. It was their secret. The regular arguments were fine because the sex afterwards was the best Anne had ever had. It was fine. Perfectly fine. Plus, Mariana had promised to go into business with her. They were to open their own restaurant, run it together and plan their future. Everything was going to be fine.
A year later, Anne crossed the street, her hands in her pockets and her head low. She walked towards the building they’d acquired together for the restaurant and grimaced as she looked through the dusty windows. It was an empty shell, rather like Anne herself. Mariana had gone, of course, she’d married some rich businessman and fucked off to Cheshire. All she’d left Anne with was a broken heart and a restaurant to set up. The door creaked as she stepped inside, her eyes stinging as she fought the urge to cry. She sat on the cold floor with a sigh and twisted the cap off the bottle of whiskey she’d stowed away in her jacket pocket. The amber liquid burned as she swallowed it down. Mariana’s laugh echoed in her mind, she should be here, they should be doing this together. As she took another swig, she suddenly felt her phone vibrate in her pocket.
“What is it?” Anne rubbed her eyes in annoyance.
“Open the door.”
Anne’s brow furrowed as her eyes struggled to focus on the looming figure at the front door. She hauled herself up with a grumble and staggered to let her sister in.
“What are you doing here, Marian?” The tremor in Anne’s voice threatened to give her stoic demeanour away.
“We’ve got a restaurant to open.” Marian smiled kindly as she watched the confusion travel across her sister’s face. “Give me that whiskey, we should be celebrating.”
Anne and Marian had never been particularly close, they tolerated each other at best but when Marian moved to Manchester to help Anne with her dream, well, it threw Anne entirely off. She was grateful, of course, but that didn’t stop her barking orders and insisting she was the boss.
“You can’t call the restaurant that.” Marian chided.
The whiskey bottle clattered against the stone floor as Anne placed it down.
“It’s my restaurant. I can call it whatever I like.” Anne muttered.
“No, Marian. It’s my restaurant.” Anne stuck her chin out, despite her rather drunk state.
“Fine. But you can’t call it that. Most people don’t know how to say it, for one.”
“Most people are dull and stupid.” Anne cut in sharply.
“You’re impossible.” Marian huffed.
“Come on, we’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow.” Anne managed to stand, pulling her sister up with her before they both staggered towards the door.
The dinner service was long, awkward and stressful. Everyone ordered extra things, less of this, more of that. It drove Anne feral when her customers picked apart her carefully constructed and thought out dishes. She’d rant and rave in the kitchen, listing all the reasons why certain ingredients simply had to be paired with each other. To remove one without the other was like removing a limb. As she watched the final order leave the kitchen, she wiped her damp forehead with the sleeve of her apron and exhaled.
Anne struck an imposing figure in the kitchen, she was tall and handsome, muscular in some places, leaner in others. While most kitchens insisted on chef whites, Anne wore black, coupled with a black bandana to hold her dark brunette hair back. She could wield a knife with expert precision, juggle eight different dishes on the stove and get every single plate out, hot and on time. Everyone was, of course, petrified of her.
Anne's loyal pot wash, Cordingley floated around her, collecting the discarded pots, pans and utensils and tidying up as she went. Anne was absolutely methodical in the kitchen, despite her temper, everything had its place on her workbench. Even when she had twenty tickets on the go, her station was always immaculate. Cordingley had learned how to tidy up after the head chef without getting in her way. It took a bit of trial and error in the early days, getting multiple sauces spilled over her and feeling Anne’s sharp tongue on numerous occasions but now they were symbiotic.
“Elizabeth.” Anne’s voice was low and quiet.
“Ma’am?” Cordingley looked up from the sink.
“Go home. It’s been a long service. Marian and I can clear this up.” Anne smiled tiredly.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Anne nodded to the door. “Go on.”
Cordingley grabbed the tea towel from the side, drying her hands before taking off her apron and finding her coat.
“Goodnight, ma’am.” Cordingley smiled again before turning to leave.
“You know you don’t have to call me that, don’t you? I’m not some mistress of the house from the 1800s?”
Cordingley rolled her eyes before leaving with a chuckle. She really liked working here, although she had no idea why Anne always seemed to cut her some slack, she wouldn’t complain. Not after hearing her screaming at everyone else in the kitchen. No, at the sink, Cordingley felt safe from Anne’s wrath. Long may it continue.
Anne wandered out, grateful for the relaxed ambience of her restaurant and locked the front door. The dining room was an average size but the lofty high ceilings made it seem bigger than it was. The walls were a deep slate grey, which, coupled with the rich orange glow from the lights hanging over each table, made the space seem cosy somehow. Anne had been overjoyed to get her hands on some reclaimed wood from the late 19th century to build the counters, giving her dining room an interesting mixture of contemporary but with a hint of rustic history. In truth, that’s how she thought of herself, maybe she was just born in the wrong era.
Marian was cashing up in the back, so Anne settled herself at the table at the far end of the restaurant. This was her favourite table. The light was perfect during the day as it faced the window but it was private enough so as not to be disturbed. It pained her to share it when her restaurant was open, she’d much rather keep it just for herself for times such as these but, well, she needed the money for the extra four covers it provided. One day, she thought, she’d rope it off, have it as her private sanctuary overlooking the restaurant. One day.
“Fancy a beer? I’m having one.” Marian called over, breaking Anne’s daydream.
“Hm.” Anne hummed without looking up. “Whiskey, please.”
Marian rolled her eyes as she poured a sizeable measure and made her way over to her sister.
“Right. We need to talk about Thomas.” Marian said, placing the two drinks on the table.
“He was fucking useless. I have nothing else to say about him.” Anne dismissed the notion with her hand before sipping her drink.
“We can’t run a kitchen without a sous chef!” Marian was losing her patience. “Or have you forgotten about next weekend?”
Anne looked up, her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed. “Of course I haven’t.”
“I don’t know why I have to fix everything for you all the time.” Marian pulled out her phone and began dialling.
“Who are you calling?” Anne covered the phone with her hand.
“The agency. We need professional help next week, I’m not having you hire another poor sod only to run them out of the kitchen before the critics have even arrived. You need to work on that temper of yours, you know.”
Anne’s blood began to boil. How dare Marian even pretend to know what it was like being head chef? Being responsible for everything in the kitchen, not to mention the running of the restaurant, the bills, doing taxes, managing her staff? How dare she. Anne had just opened her mouth to unleash another tirade when Marian interrupted.
“Yes, hello, I’m wondering if you can help. We’re in dire need of a sous chef for an event next weekend and I hoped you might have someone on your books that could…” Marian stopped. “Mhm. I see. Yes, that’s fine.”
“What are they saying?” Anne whispered, only to get dismissed by a wave of Marian’s hand.
“Thank you, I really appreciate it. Yes, if you could get, Monday, yes perfect. Thanks again.”
Marian hung up and took a big sip of her beer. She knew delaying the answer would drive her sister insane, it was all too easy to wind her up really. She shouldn’t enjoy it this much but she couldn’t help it.
“Well?” Anne slammed her glass down on the table.
“It’s sorted.” Marian smiled. “On Monday, a Miss Walker will be joining us for a trial shift before we hire her for the event.”
“What are her credentials? She’d better be qualified or…”
“Everyone at the agency is fully qualified Anne, that’s the whole point!” Marian was getting irritated. “Besides, she’s the only one available on such short notice.”
“Hm.” Anne grumbled, not entirely convinced. “I guess we’ll find out just how good she is on Monday.”